Theatre: Memories are made of this
MNEMONIC RIVERSIDE STUDIOS LONDON
Wednesday 01 December 1999
While everyone is thus blinkered, Simon McBurney, acting like a cross between a stand-up comic and a metaphysical hypnotist, invites you to concentrate on ever more distant moments in your past - New Year's Day 1999; your first day at school etc, and then to the receding vistas of the ancestry which, viewed far enough back, relates everyone in the audience to each other. He then invites you to feel the leaf, imagining that its veins are the complex lines of heritage, ending in the stalk which is you.
This prelude ushers in a wonderfully arresting piece of theatre that could perhaps best be described as a sizzle of connections across the collective synapses. Full of weird scenic mergers, cross-fades, revolving juxtapositions and internal echoes, the show takes us on two simultaneous detective trails into the past.
One follows the forensic and ethical fall-out of the discovery in 1991 in the Austrian alps of the ice-preserved, naked body of a Neolithic man from 5,200 years ago. If that time-scale makes our millennium celebrations look a somewhat parochial affair, the other strand lures us on a mysterious hunt back across the history of our own century.
Alice is desperate to find the father her mother had always claimed was dead. This desire pitches her on an emotionally bruising journey to Berlin, Riga, Warsaw, Switzerland and beyond, and back into the nomadic fate of a representative East European refugee. Caught in a no-man's land between the two worlds is Alice's former boyfriend, Virgil. Played by McBurney, who also conceived and directed the piece, this character provides the show's central image: a naked male body lying on its/his left side, head against a stone - sometimes the Iceman, sometimes Virgil and occupying the tricky interstice between memory and imagination.
The dazzling blizzard of synchronicities in Mnemonic, brilliantly achieved by an endlessly resourceful production, should not blind one to the fact that its primary appeal is to the heart, not the intellect. It is the sort of show that Robert Lepage might create if he had the emotional intelligence. Two simple moral truths emerge. One is that we must rethink our relationship with the past's immensity and learn to empathise with the figure of the Iceman, displayed in its museum fridge, rather than gawp at it with touristic curiosity. This wisdom is conveyed in a beautiful sequence where the cast rotate in an endless cycle of taking it in turns to assume his position.
The second is that when the facts run out, there is an honourable human need for stories. Here my single quibble pops up. The academics with their competing interpretations of the Iceman are presented as self-promoting buffoons. It's very funny, but why is their compulsion to make narrative sense of the phenomenon less worthy of respect than this show? That's a minor caveat, for Mnemonic leaves you needing no aide-memoire: it is authentically unforgettable.
To 8 Jan (0181-237 1111)
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Dad attempts revenge on teenage daughter, plan backfires spectacularly
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
Game of Thrones, season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Martin Scorsese 'in shock' after death on set of new film Silence
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures